Over the past few weeks, our polls have pitted some of the worst parking craters in our region against each other for the dubious title of worst in the region. The votes are in, the finals have been decided. Without further ado, I give you the reader-voted worst parking crater inside the Beltway: RFK Stadium.
RFK Stadium is a textbook example of why we should care about parking craters
Completed in 1961, RFK stadium began serving local sports fans in an era when Washington, DC was struggling to stave off the impending highway that would have criss-crossed the city with several downtown interstate highways. The stadium opened 15 years before Metro, but a mere few months before the final closure of the streetcar system.
For the most part, if you wanted to attend a baseball or football game at RFK stadium in the early years, you most likely drove. The Stadium Armory Metro station opened in 1977 and a new generation of sports fans now had the option of foregoing the traffic to attend events. But the lots never got smaller.
In fact, another Metro station at Oklahoma Avenue was the only station in the original Metro plan to be scrapped thanks to neighborhood opposition. The station would have packed another 1,000 spaces to the area, and residents worried about illegal parking in front of their houses.
Since the departure of DC United two seasons ago, the stadium and its massive parking lots have sat fallow. Adaptive reuses such as farmer's markets and a since-closed go-cart company have utilized the lots, but calls for development have only grown louder. It remains to be seen if mixed-use development will come to the site. That rests on Eleanore Holmes Norton's bill to sell the site back to the District of Columbia, which will release the city from the current recreation-based limitations.
As the region's leaders rediscover local waterfronts as a major amenity, these destructive lots were seen as a major impediment to making the most of the middle Anacostia riverfront. Fortunately, whether or not the city is allowed to reacquire the land, the lots will soon be history. In fact, construction is already underway, even if another sports venue winds up there.
The photo above shows the construction of athletic fields and a new market hall that broke ground in August will soon serve the residents of Kingman Park and beyond. In addition to a recreational amenity replacing a disused expance of asphalt, the permeable surfaces of the athletic fields will mitigate 27 acres worth of parking lot runoff pollution.
Most importantly, it represents the start of undoing the scar left on the city's riverfront by its quintessentially 1960s-era design. No matter what winds up on the site, it most certainly will have more attractive modern design that does not alienate users and patrons with a daunting desert of striped pavement.
RFK's redevelopment is not an outlier
Awareness of these parking craters facilitates their redevelopment. Sprawling infrastructure to serve only one form of transportation at the expense of all other modes proves inefficient and uneconomical on top of being an eyesore and a source of water pollution. RFK's prominent history, location, and current state of blight make it hard to overlook in any conversation regarding wasteful parking lots. But the other 15 lots in this series also deserve a modern makeover.
RFK is not the first parking crater in the region to receive an urban makeover. This year, Streetsblog's Parking Madness series highlights parking craters from around the nation that have been successfully reshaped into more usable spaces. Two of those are in our region.
NoMa/Mount Vernon Triangle, once a series of empty lots, began a transformation with the opening of an infill Metro station in 2004. Pike & Rose, on the other hand, is a suburban infill station bringing transit-oriented development to North Bethesda. Neither of these two craters made it out of the first round, despite the fact that they both would have made strong contenders in our tournament prior to their makeovers. They lost by wide margins to Toronto and Indianapolis, respectively, by extremely wide margins. This may illustrate the fact that the DC metropolitan area makes economical use of its land already.
With no room to expand DC's boundaries, land use economy is important, and that means parking lots are not. In general, DC sets a fantastic example for other cities in North America. But there are still at least 15 more opportunities to improve inside the Beltway.